As I am getting ready to leave Ollantaytambo, I am having several different kinds of feelings. I cut my time short here by almost 2 months, and because of this I am regretting the things that I will miss here in the following months. I’ll miss a traditional Christmas with my host family, New Year’s, and the Day of the Kings. I will be leaving my host family early, with whom I have developed a good relationship. Getting to know them has been a great experience in itself. There are other things that I had interest in doing in the area, but I never got around to doing them. For example, a few various hikes, camping with the host family, and other things like this. I have also met a few people here that I will miss when I leave.
I am actually surprised that I am having small feelings of regrets, especially since I have been itching to get out of here. However, I must be honest. I have failed in many ways from what I have set out to do. In some ways I have succeeded, but I don’t feel satisfied with how a lot of things went. I will explain. There are 3 different parts that didn’t mesh well with me. Not all of it was caused by external influences. I am also very much fault for the lack of success in what I accomplished in my work.
The organization: When you give your time, money, and effort to volunteer for an organization, you expect to be treated well. Of course, you come in wide eyed and want to really help the cause. Because, of course, you are giving up a lot to volunteer. When I arrived, I immediately felt different about the organization. My first 2 shifts that I worked in the store (which is the main part of the whole organization), I had problems. The next person didn’t show up to work their shift, so I ended up working the following shifts. When I told the project leader about it, she said she was supposed to work those shifts, but she was gone for the weekend. And if that happens again, I can just close up the shop when I want. This is the first weekend. So from the beginning, I got a glimpse of how the organization is run…not as much to help the locals in need but to give the workers something to do in between their drinking and smoking binges.
I also felt like it was a bit strange how much they pushed their tourist trips onto the volunteers, and also how they seem to overcharge. I found that a good part of their revenues come from the volunteers, both from these tours and from volunteer fees. I understand that non-profits need to collect some fees from volunteers since it takes time and effort to set up the placements. However, many things I saw as being over the edge. For example, there was a parade here for the anniversary of the town, and the organization marched in it. Beforehand, they told us we “have to” buy tshirts of the organization. No ifs, we have to buy a tshirt from them for about $12. Strangely, they later realized that had old shirts that we could borrow (but this is after several people had bought their shirts). I opted out and decided not to participate.
The house: I have been living in the volunteer house for two months now after I decided my freedom and independence was a priority, and I decided to move out of my homestay. At first the house was good. Only 3 others living there, clean, seemed to have everything. But after 3 others moved in and we were a house of 7 with one dog, 7 newborn puppies, and a cat, it started to get extremely dirty. Especially in the kitchen, which is where you wouldn´t want dogs to be living and making it dirty. Also, there happened to be a rat or two living in the storage shed right next to the kitchen. One thing I can´t handle is rats, especially when your food is mysteriously halfway gone from the way you left it the previous night. And walking into the kitchen to cook and seeing a rat run out through another opening isn´t the best environment. Over time, these things added up and living here wasn´t the best. It´s another factor that made me ready to leave earlier.
The people: This includes both the volunteers/foreigners and the locals. It seems that a good amount of the foreigners living here are here to party and not a whole lot more. It is definitely a college atmosphere for the foreigners. A lot of the people are out almost every night drinking at the tourist bars. Also, marijuana is seems to be pretty easy to get here so people smoke a lot too. Don’t get me wrong, I love beer (as you could probably tell from my Prague blogs), but this kind of party atmosphere and lifestyle isn’t for me. So I tried to keep my distance from the foreigner crowd. However, this made it tough to make a lot of friends, so I honestly didn’t have a lot of friends here.
The fact that tourism is so imporant to the Peru economy makes many of the locals very aggressive towards tourists. And because I am white, that automatically makes me a tourist. Because of that, I get bombarded with offers from the taxi stop every time I walked by, which was at least 2 or 3 times per day. Maras, Salineras, Cusco?? Even when I am just sitting in the plaza, or walking to the store, I am shouted at my taxi drivers from their cars, “Cusco, amigo?” It seems that there is a big seperation between all of the foreigners and the locals because of the importance of the tourism industry. After passing the taxi stop at least 200 times, do you think they would recognize my face and realize I am staying in Ollantaytambo? Not to mention the 10 year old kid selling postcards in the plaza by trying to guilt you into buying, but asking several different days.
Peru is also a very cut-throat country, if that is the best word to use. People will push you around in any way without thinking twice. For example, if you are standing in a line waiting for something, it’s not rare for someone to just cut right in front of you. Another example is when buses are stopping to let someone in, they hurry you as much as possible. “Get in, get in, get in”, the worker is saying as the bus is already pulling away. If you are in a tight area trying to squeeze through, usually the others won’t move to get out of your way. You just have to get through. There are many other things like this, and this bothers me since it’s not like in the US, where strangers will help strangers for no reason. Most people are extremely kind to strangers in the US and many other countries, and that is a big difference here.
Last thing to vent about Peruvians…the males are extremely macho. I’ve never seen a place with such a macho society. For example, it is rare to ever see a father with his kids and without the wife around. Typically, the father goes out with his friends while the mother takes care of the children. And usually the mother is with the kids the entire day while the father is working outside. Not every situation is like this, but it seems like a majority for sure. And still, the husband usually makes the decisions while the wife needs to go along with it. The problem with this situation, as well, is that many times women stay at home and don’t earn an income. This means that they don’t have the means to split apart from the husband if they would want to go that route. In general, the men treat women in public very different than in the US. The men definitely try to be dominant, and this is frustrating to see every day.
These are my biggest dislikes about living in Ollanta. Although it seems like a lot, I did enjoy my time here. It has been a great experience, and it wasn’t all failures. I am happy with how my Spanish has improved over the 3 months. At the beginning, I could understand maybe 5% of what my host family was saying. Now, I can definitely keep up and have a conversation. It’s been a challenge learning the language, but it is very rewarding.
Spending time with my host family was also an experience I am very glad to have had. After moving out, I still went over there pretty often to say hi and to hang out.
Also, I had the chance to travel some while in Peru. Arequipa and the Colca Canyon, Machu Picchu, Puno and Lake Titicaca, and the Sacred Valley around Ollantaytambo. These have all been great experiences in themselves, and I have great memories from each of them.
So that wrapped up my time here. I am happy to have had the experience living here, and I have learned a lot from it. Now I am on my way to Bolivia for several weeks!